Mayor Eric Adams unveiled slate of new administration appointments to tackle climate change and environmental justice in New York City Monday, including former Mayor Michael Bloomberg official Rit Aggarwala as the new commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection.
Hizzoner vowed to take on climate change by focusing on green energy, storm resilience, and poorer neighborhoods and communities of color who have suffered outsize consequences from environmental issues.
“Far too long, the difference between an environmental incident and an environmental crisis is what neighborhood it has happened in,” Adams said at City Hall during a Jan. 31 press briefing. “Climate catastrophe isn’t some far-off threat, it’s here, it’s happening and our city is taking action now.”
Aggarwala will lead DEP and be the city’s chief climate officer, reporting to the mayor’s Deputy for Operations Meera Joshi.
“We’re going to address climate change in both its aspects: decarbonizing our city’s economy at the same time as we are improve its resilience to extreme heat, to storms, and to surges,” Aggarwala said. “We’re going to work, at the mayor’s direction, to integrate environmental justice into that work fully and not treat it just as a byproduct.”
Aggarwala previously served in the Bloomberg administration’s office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability, and founded an environmental grant as part of the former mayor’s Bloomberg Philanthropies. He was also on the team that launched Google’s urban tech startup Sidewalk Labs.
Former DEP Commissioner under Mayor Bill de Blasio, Vincent Sapienza, will stay on as the agency’s chief operating officer.
Adams consolidated four climate change related offices from the previous administration into one under the banner of the Mayor’s Office of Climate and Environmental Justice.
It’s a combination of the mayor’s offices of Climate Resiliency, Climate and Sustainability, Environmental Coordination, and Environmental Remediation.
The new arm of City Hall will be led by Kizzy Charles-Guzman, a 15-year city government veteran who previously worked on sustainability and climate change in the mayor’s office, the Department of Health, and as an air quality advisor during the Bloomberg administration.
The mayor gave few details on his administration’s actual plans for climate challenges, but recommitted to goals set by his predecessor.
He vowed to reach the de Blasio administration’s target of generating 100 megawatts from solar panels on the roofs of public buildings like schools and libraries within his first four-year term and pledged to finish the city’s environmental justice study, for which de Blasio released a scope in December.
Adams, who eats a plant-based diet, also highlighted healthy eating as a way to help fight climate change.
“We talk about fossil fuel, we talk about that we need electric vehicles, no one is talking about the plate. The plate is not only destroying Mother Nature, it is destroying our mothers and our children as well,” Adams said.